CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews

12.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 005 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.5:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Le Scarabée | Der Skarabäus | The Stag Beetle (2:06)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.

11.10.19

On ClassicsToday: BR Chorus in Handel’s Glorious Occasional Oratorio

Filling In The Gaps: Handel’s Glorious Occasional Oratorio

by Jens F. Laurson
Handel_Occasional-Oratorio_BR-KLASSIK_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
George Frideric Handel’s Occasional Oratorio—essentially a pastiche cantata—was meant to buck up the London crowds (and curry political favor) as England was facing a war of succession from Jacobite Charles Edward Stuart. The work presents us with a conundrum: Those for whom having the fringe ... Continue Reading [Insider content]





10.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Parsifal With a Side of Banana Oil from Bernhard Lang

CD From Hell: Bernhard Lang Fools With Parsifal

by Jens F. Laurson
Bernhard-LANG_PARZEFOOL_KAIROS_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday
The idea of re-writing and reinterpreting extant works to make them appear in new guise is a well-worn one in contemporary music. For years, the tool of (ostentatiously ironic) quotation was the only “out” for composers to squeeze any beauty or conventional harmony into their works. It o... Continue Reading [Insider content]





9.10.19

St. Petersburg's 'Paquita' makes U.S. debut at Kennedy Center


Paquita, Mariinsky Ballet (Photo: Darian Volkova/ State Academic Mariinsky Theater)

Paquita was the first ballet that Marius Petipa adapted from a French source when he arrived in St. Petersburg. Hardly a surprise, then, that it is not a great work. The Mariinsky Ballet's new adaptation of the ballet, which opened Tuesday night in the Kennedy Center Opera House, is one of the few productions from this esteemed company that you can pass on seeing. A rather long night in the theater, it made one understand why Paquita disappeared from the repertory, except for a few "bleeding chunks" like the Pas de trois and the Grand Pas and divertissement, the latter performed on its own by the Mariinsky in 2015.

The ballet was first created in Paris, with music by Édouard Deldevez, before being expanded into its better-known form by Marius Petipa in St. Petersburg. As was the usual practice, Petipa augmented the work over the years with new music by Ludwig Minkus and some pieces stolen from other composers. Other companies and directors have been trying to revive Paquita in recent years, too, including a restoration from the Stepanov notation by Alexei Ratmansky in Munich and an adaptation by Pierre Lacotte in Paris.

This production, premiered at the Mariinsky in 2017, is mostly new. Rather than reconstructing Petipa's work, Yuri Smekalov has created a new libretto and new choreography, using a reordering and reorchestration of the music. That new work has been grafted on to Yuri Burlaka's painstaking restoration of the Grand Pas, which constitutes most of the third act. The story remains basically the same, concerning a noble girl stolen away by gypsies. She falls in love with an officer who gives up his commission to live among the gypsies, a sort of variation on the story of Bizet's Carmen twenty-five years later.


Other Reviews:

Sarah L. Kaufman, Mariinsky Ballet’s ‘Paquita’: Glittering dancing but a skimpy story (Washington Post, October 9, 2019)
The result is dramatically inert, mostly a series of rather empty pantomime scenes. In particular, the ending of the second act was curiously anti-climactic. The scenic design (Andrei Svebo) and costuming (Elena Zaitseva) are both handsome, including a humorous use of moving shrub trees during one transition. Most of the music, played ably by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra under the baton of the Mariinsky's Gavriel Heine, is not worth a second listen. Some of the more elaborate variations, including extensive solos for violin, flute, and harp (many times), created appropriately dreamy moods in solo dances.

The main reason to see Paquita is for the company's dancers. In the title role is Viktoria Tereshkina, in many ways a cold, steely ballerina (last seen in 2017) who has warmed considerably in this character. Her technique was impeccable, handsome lines and poise that gave her exceptional confidence. Even better in some ways was the Andres of Timur Askerov, a tall, elegant partner for the long-limbed Tereshkina. The Grand Pas of the third act features mostly lower-rung dancers: best among them was Yekaterina Chebykina, also featured to flattering effect as the third wheel in the Pas de trois of the second act.

Paquita runs through October 13 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Dip Your Ears, No. 256 (Gabriela Montero’s Latin Concerto)

available at Amazon
M.Ravel / G.Montero, Piano Concertos
Gabriela Montero / Carlos Miguel Prieto / The Orchestra of the Americas
Orchid Classics

After dipping her toes into the composing waters with her tone-poem for piano and orchestra Ex Patria op.1, Gabriela Montero has now written a full scale piano concerto. While Ex Patria was an emotional plea about the plight of Venezuela, the concerto is intended as a call to consider a more realistic, somber view of Latin America. She wants the world to understand that, while South America is a continent that’s known for its rhythms, flavors, for its spirit, for its humor, and for having a spirit that somehow is able to overcome or transcend the difficulties and extremes of our daily experience, there’s also a darker side to it: Shadows that threaten the countries’ and people’s development and prosperity.

You can question whether any of that specifically comes across in concert or on disc, without reading her liner notes or hearing her speak about it. In fact, that’s almost certain not to be the case. But the idea that in the rhythms, melodies and the vibrancy of the work is embedded a message about the darker aspects of South American nature does seem to come through as a tempering quality. There is a specifically “Latin” cliché in classical music. Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina, Oslvado Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos, or Ariel Ramírez’s Navidad Nuestra and his Misa Criolla are only some examples that are full of it. The separating line between tackiness and vibrancy is fairly think. Fall down just an inch on the wrong side and a composition will sound as though Speedy Gonzales had got a hold of the Maracas.

Montero’s bitter-sweet piece avoids that trap. Anyone familiar with South American music might notice the El pajarillo (a quintessentially Venzuelan type of dance modelled after the “Joropo llanero”). But the music does not exude a not a happy-go-lucky dancing vibe. The mambo of the eponymous first movement has a dark undercurrent running through it: A bit of Varese; a bit of urban ‘mechanique’. The fun is measured. The air is rather mature, the structure simple but touching, and the content never banal. It’s an extremely likable work that doesn’t dumb it down much.

The Ravel concerto, by all means given a good performance, aided and abetted by Carlos Miguel Prieto and The Orchestra of the Americas, is a fine companion piece. A courageous one, too, because the very greatness of it might have been considered a risk lest it overshadow the ‘Latin’ Concerto or even expose it as something much lesser. It goes to the great credit of the former that it doesn’t do that. But let’s face it: that’s not the work most people would buy this disc for. At least not when they have Zimerman/Boulez or any other Reference Quality recording on their shelves already.

8/8







8.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Checking Out The Budapest Orchestral Scene Part III

Jenő Koppándi & Zsolt Hamar


For my ongoing survey of Budapest’s orchestral scene, I picked out an all-Bartók evening with the Hungarian National Philharmonic after having heard a great Concerto Budapest concert and the Hungarian RSO in the Ring. The National Philharmonic came to (Western) fame under its longtime director János Ferencsik and again when it was led for two decades by Zoltán Kocsis until the latter’s death in 2016. The ambitious bill on this season-opening night included the Two Portraits Op. 5, the Third Piano Concerto, and Bluebeard’s Castle for the main course. Fab stuff, mosty:

All-Bartók Season-Opener With The Hungarian National Philharmonic


Below are a few photos from the concert to go with that review.





5.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 004 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.4:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Les Talitres | Die Meerflöhe | Sand Hoppers (1:05)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.